To Trade or Not To Trade?

Monday 30 November 2015

To trade or not to trade – that is that the question? But Should it be? This is no Shakespeare play!

In 2016 the CITIES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Conference of the Parties will meet in South Africa, where it is widely expected the South African government will propose allowing a legal trade in rhinoceros horn.

Legalising trade in rhino horn has become THE polarising topic when discussing how best to conserve the rhino and stop it from slipping further towards extinction - thanks mainly to an unprecedented level of poaching. But should it really be the topic everyone is talking about?

Since 2007, when just 13 rhinos were lost to poaching on South Africa, we have witnessed an unacceptable increase in poaching, with South Africa losing an unvelievable 1,215 in 2014. That number is expected to rise again in 2015 to around 1,500. Rhinos are poached for their horn, which is then transported to Asia and sold on the black market for more than its weight in gold or cocaine.

So, it is fair to say we need to take drastic action to reverse the rhino poaching trend of the last 8 years, but should we really be focussing so much attention on the ‘big trade debate’? This article is not about the plusses and minuses of opening up a legal trade, but about the wasted time and money being spent to convince ‘the other side’ to change their view.

This brings me to my first problem. There should be no ‘other side’! Whether you are in the ‘pro-trade’ or the ‘no-trade’ brigade, no-one doubts you are trying to achieve a common goal of saving the rhino. Yes, some private rhino owners will become very rich over night, should the trade in rhino horn be legalised, but they assure us they will use this wealth to protect rhinos and even increase the rhino population. So let us be clear….. we all want the same outcome!

As Founder and Chairman of UK charity Helping Rhinos I have joined many discussions on both the pro and the no trade, and for the record, I should state I fall into the ‘no trade’ category. But again, it is not the rights and wrongs of any trade that I want to address right now.

The major issue, in my view, is that on both sides of the argument passions run so high that all logic and sensibility fly out of the window. I recently I attended a talk from the pro-trade lobby that was so full of holes and inaccuracies, it was mind blowing. It was even suggested that NGO’s have never provided any funding to private rhino owners – ever! Excuse me! A look out our accounts will show this to be a complete fabrication. And to be completely fair to both sides, I have also seen no-trade representatives lose all rational discussion by personally attacking (verbally, not physically) the pro trade panel debate colleague. Rather than presenting the facts, a barrage of personal insults followed. I had people at the end of the debate tell me, though previously against trade, after witnessing the attacks on the pro-trade individual, they had changed their minds!

Another critical issue is the amount of campaigning that is being conducted on the fringes – AT WHAT COST?  Just this week, there was a ‘roadshow’ for want of a better phrase from the pro-trade lobby trying to convince students in the UK of the benefits of a trade. Ask yourself WHY? Can students influence the decision of CITES in 2016? I would argue not. So why spend so much money on flying people around the world to present inaccurate assumptions to a group of people that cannot influence the decision making process? How many month’s salary for a ranger protecting rhinos in the field would those funds have covered?

The recent ruling by a South African judge to allow domestic trade in rhino horn, a ruling currently being appealied by the South African government, once again caused a social media storm that saw many up in arms. I have no problem with making a statement on the subject, in fact it is appropriate to do so, as reputable NGO’s, the public look to us for an opinion. But let us not lose focus of the areas we can all influence and produce tangible results.

Even the most ardent pro-trades delegates I have met do not believe there will be a ‘yes’ vote to allow international trade until the following Conference of the Parties in 2019. How many more rhinos will have been lost by then! Ardent pro-traders also agree a trade in rhino horn is not the whole solution, simply part of a bigger picture.

So my plea is twofold:

Only by working together, can we achieve much better results than we have managed to date. Then can we say we are did our best for the survival of the RHINO.

wirtten by Simon Jones - Founder and Chairman of Helping Rhinos